Some New Jersey Republicans are moving in favor or marijuana legalization

Donal Gannon 

Washington- Marijuana legalization and decriminalization has been an issue historically spearheaded by Democrats, but a contingency of Independent and Republican voters in New Jersey appear to be coming around on legal weed.

This November, voters in New Jersey will have a referendum on Question one, a proposal to amend the state’s constitution to legalize recreational marijuana for those over the age of 21. This follows the failure of Democratic lawmakers who attempted to pass a series of legalization bills in New Jersey in 2019.

The ballot measure is expected to pass, and with a margin that breaks party lines. Polls in the last week have projected that New Jersey will go to former Vice President Joe Biden by roughly a 20 point margin, whereas marijuana legalization has been projected to pass by 30 according to a recent poll from Farleigh Dickinson University. With only about 40% of New Jersey voters registered as Democrats, the polls suggest that legalization is not only an issue important to Democrats.

Aden Hochrun, 21, is a member of Stockton College Republicans, who voted in favor of legalization, “I thinks it’s silly that we’ve been putting all this effort and resources prosecuting people for something I don’t think is that bad to begin with,” said Hochrun.

“I know that my circle of Republicans  that I speak to are mostly younger Republicans, I think at this point most I believe have turned towards legalization,” said Hochrun, “Especially since younger Republicans don’t have that stigma behind marijuana usage that older generations have. We don’t see it as some ‘devils lettuce’.”

Younger Republicans appear to be moving away from the party’s previous platforms against marijuana. A Pew Researchconducted in 2015 indicated that with every younger generation of voters registered Republicans support legalization more and more. 

Chairman of the Ramapo College Republicans, Phil Pillari, 21 said he did not vote for Question One, though he is in favor of decriminalization. “I don’t think we should be sending people to jail if they get caught with marijuana,” said Pillari in an interview, “it should be like a traffic ticket, you go to drug court then it’s over and done with.”

“The Libertarian side of the party is starting to be more in favor of it. I don’t think enough of the party is full on for legalizing marijuana to make it a party platform, but there are definitely elements with the party that are in favor of it” said Pillari.

With the projected support of Question 1, many Republican candidates in New Jersey have not made a marijuana a prominent part of their campaigns. “At this point it’s really not a popular issue for the Republican party because there are so many people that are off that ship that marijuana need to be illegal,”  said Hochman, “A lot of the party has been avoiding the issue of legalization the past few years. Before that, several years ago it was a firm ‘no’ but I do think that’s changing,” said Hochman.

In August, members of the Republican County Chairs Association of New Jersey made a joint statement asking voters to vote against legalization. Former Republican gubernatorial candidate Joseph Rudy Rullo has advocated for the legalization of marijuana, and commented on this decision.

“All 21 of these ignorant individuals came out and voted to condemn marijuana. Let the people vote. The party wants to open their tents to different cultures and races, well open tents to people who use marijuana,” said Rullo in an interview, “A lot of young republicans are back in this election and the more libertarian minded republicans, people either don’t give a crap about it or are voting just for legalization.”

President Trump has largely been silent on the issue of marijuana, though he has indicated he is in support of allowing states to decide the issue for themselves. Joe Biden has proposed decriminalization and justice reform on cannabis, and also supports individual state decisions on recreational use.

If Question 1 passes New Jersey will join the 11 other states that have legalized recreational marijuana.

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